Civil War History: A Call to ActionHistorians in the News
tags: Civil War, Confederacy, monuments, public history
This spring and summer have seen renewed protests against monuments and memorials to the Confederacy and its leaders. We believe historians can play an important role in the ongoing, broad-based conversation about the history and memory of the Civil War Era. Historians bring a commitment to truth-telling and to teaching — to deepening historical knowledge about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the use of public propaganda in the late 19th and 20th centuries to hide and distort the past.
We are calling on historians to engage in a nationwide, group demonstration of good history at national parks, state parks, and other public sites from 12 to 2 p.m. EDT on Saturday, September 26. Building on the work of Scott Hancock and others at Gettysburg on July 4 of this year, we ask historians to select a site where the history of slavery, emancipation, and Reconstruction is being concealed or neglected. We ask you to investigate problems with representations of the Confederacy at that site and any absences of the history of slavery and African Americans there. And we encourage you to invite friends (including non-historians) with connections to the communities around that site and to prepare a signboard or other permitted material that uses historical arguments and evidence to counter that misinformation.
We urge historians and community members to visit these sites simultaneously on Sept. 26, the weekend after the anniversary of the issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, to provide an accurate recounting of the history of slavery, the Civil War, and the postwar struggle for Black rights. Between now and Sept. 26, we will provide advice on to turn this goal into practice: how to develop and present evidence in a way that reaches a public audience that may be skeptical of historical argument; how to convey history while while staying within park rules; how to respond to potentially belligerent people in a way that deescalates or avoids conflict; and how to sustain social distancing and other precautions against Covid-19. In a webinar on September 9 and in follow-up posts, we will provide concrete guidance on these and other issues. The goal: to emancipate our battlefields and other public spaces from a biased history that has sanitized and glorified the Confederacy’s fight to keep four million African Americans enslaved.
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